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St. Michan's Church (Dublin)

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Church Street, Dublin, Ireland.

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      08.04.2009 14:58

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      By all means visit the church but avoid the vaults

      Hello,
      My name is Ed. I first visited St Michan's Church and vaults around 37 years ago when I was eight years of age. I remember how haunting it seemed but I was reassured by the adults. On the 6th of April 2009 I was in Dublin for the weekend with my girlfriend Sarah and best friend Gary. I told them of my experience at St Michan's and wondered if they would be interested in a visit. They decided that it might be a good idea.

      Secretly, I had regretted visiting the resting places of the so called 'mummies' for all these years. As I had grown older I could not help but feel I violated a sacred resting place. I had no choice when I was eight - just went with the adults. Over the years I had misgivings about the affair. I wondered how I could put things right again.

      I decided another visit was required but this time I wanted to put things right. Instead of being scared I prayed for the souls resting in the crypt and in my prayers asked their forgiveness for violating their resting places many years ago.

      Sarah and Gary did not enjoy they experience. The advertisement and tourist information would have you believe you were visiting mummies akin to the ancient Egyptian pyramids. Not so. When you enter the vaults you are actually looking at coffins and remains of ordinary people. Imagine if you had thousands of people gawking at your loved ones day after day year after year. Is it not the whole purpose in burying our dead so they can rest in peace!

      What made the whole affair most unwholesome was the Tour Guide. He did his best (but failed miserably) at being theatrical about the experience with no regard to the sacred privacy that should be afforded in death. He commented on the gruesome deaths that some had met. He also relished on one particular deceased whom nobody liked - not even his own family!

      I know ultimately it will depend on where you are at, theologically speaking. Some will feel they are merely looking at relics or even Irish history. But the truth is you are looking at the remains of dead people in a kind of circus side show. Surely you would not approve of this if it were your remains that people were being charged £4.00 to look at.

      For the faithful amongst you. Let them rest in peace. Avoid this ill conceived Dublin side show. The Church does not need the money. Outside of this unsavoury way of making money from you the church functions daily as any church reliant on its congregation to fund it. In faith rely on God to keep his houses open.

      For the people who are of different faiths or even none at all. Search your minds and asked yourself is it right to put the remains of those you love, or those you do not even know on public display for monetary rewards.

      Do yourself a favour and the deceased. Avoid this unsavoury Dublin attraction. I fear you will regret it. .

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      29.09.2001 16:50
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      ~ ~ This ancient church dates back to the time of the Vikings in Ireland, and was built in 1095 in the old Viking settlement of Oxmantown on the north side of the River Liffey. ~ ~ St. Michan himself, after who the church is named, is thought to have been a Dublin Norseman, although the records in Christchurch Cathedral simply describe him as an ‘Irish saint and confessor’. After the Normans settled in Ireland, many of the old Vikings moved to this part of the city, although it’s not clear whether the move from their more established settlements on the south side of the river was voluntary, or if they were forced out by the conquering Normans. ~ ~ One of the oldest busts in the church is thought to be off Bishop Samuel O’hAingli, who died in 1121, and who is claimed to be the founder of the original church. He broke ranks with the see of Christchurch, and set himself up as the unofficial ‘Archbishop’ of Dublin, for which he was severely reprimanded by Anslem, the then Archbishop of Canterbury. The church, in fact, wasn’t even recognised as an official archdiocese until 1152. From 1095 up until the mid-17th century, St. Michan’s had the distinction of being the only church in Dublin on the north side of the River Liffey. ~ ~ The present church dates back to 1685, when it was practically rebuilt, and the tall grey tower added at that time has long been a well known landmark in north Dublin. It is built from Dublin calp (a local limestone) and from rubble. The interior of the church is even more modern, and dates from 1828, when it was also re-roofed. ~ ~ It is famous for two items in particular. The first is its magnificent church organ in its gallery. This dates back to 1725, and parish records show that the totally enormous cost (for that time) of £467-7s-10d was raised by the parishioners themselves. Its claim to fame is that it was used by the
      famous composer and musician Handel when he came to Dublin in 1741-42 for the first ever performance of the ‘Messiah’. ~ ~ Now we come to St. Michan’s main attraction, which lies not in the church itself, but in the underground vaults, accessed by a narrow stone stairway. The St. Michan’s ‘mummies’. There are coffins set into niches in the walls of a long, narrow tunnel, some of which are open, and others that can only be viewed through sets of iron bars. Many of the coffins are not sealed revealing their grisly contents. In one of the many burial chambers lies what many visitors come to St. Michan’s to see. Four remarkably preserved bodies humorously nicknamed by the Dublin people as ‘The Big Four’. The coffins are all open here, fully revealing the bodies within, which are covered from head to foot with a thick dust, and with tight, leather-like skin stretched tautly over their features. One of the coffins contains the remains of a man with one of his hands and both feet amputated. Some researchers maintain that he suffered this fate because he was a thief; others say it was simply because the coffin was too small for his torso, and the feet were cut off to make the body fit! There is the mummified corpse of a woman on his right, and on the left the mortal remains of a nun. Perhaps the most ‘famous’ of the corpses is at the rear. It’s the body of a man who has been cut totally in half in order to fit him into his coffin. For many years, it was maintained that this was the body of a Crusader, but recent research seems to discount this claim, as the vaults only date back to around the 17th century. Some people have objected in fairly strong terms to bodies of the dead being displayed to the public in this fashion, but as the Church is urgently in need of further funds to help finance an extensive renovation programme, they are liable to rem
      ain on view for some time yet. ~ ~ The last room also contains some corpses of interest. These are of the Sheare brothers, who were put to death by the then ruling British after they took part in the Fenian rising of 1798. Their coffins were opened during the celebrations to commemorate the Rising in 1998, in order to replace them with new ones, and only then was it discovered that the brothers had suffered the then common punishment that Britain imposed at that time for treason; they had been hung, drawn and quartered. ~ ~ What is remarkable about the ‘mummies’ is that the bodies have remained in such good condition for such a long period of time. For a time it was put down to the very high concentration of lime in the area, but this is the case in many other parts of Dublin also, and in no other church vaults in the city has this phenomenon occurred. It is now thought that the very dry atmosphere may have played a part, as well as the fact that vaults in St. Michan’s Church lie below the bottom level of the Liffey River, thus making them drier. ~ ~ The graveyard of the church contains the graves of some other notable Irishmen. Oliver Bond, who also took part in the 1798 Rising is interred here, as is the mathematician William Rowan Hamilton. It is also believed that the body of Robert Emmet, executed by the British during the 1803 Rising, is also buried somewhere in the church grounds. ~ ~ This ancient church is well worth a look if you visit Dublin, but be warned. The ‘mummies’ tour is very macabre, and not for the squeamish or the faint hearted.

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